How the past is represented and how historical understanding, meaning, and consciousness are generated through performance is a major focus of both my research and teaching. Starting from the position that researching and writing the past is a performative act which encourages us to embrace our own subjectivities, imaginings, and emotions, I have explored a variety of sites and stories seeking to complicate and destabilise traditional ways of doing history. I am especially interested in how embodying the past through performance generates historical meaning, shapes historical consciousness, and deepens historical understanding.
Performing Diaspora, Migration, Stereotypes
Another conference focusing on these themes has led to another collection of essays. This book has an article written by Helin Burkay and myself called “Tasting the Nation: Food, Identity, and Belonging in Canada”.
The article arose in part from our collaboration in my SSHRC-funded project “Performing History, Remaking History and Performing Diaspora through Food” which involved exploring food as performing memory and identity. Here is a link to the work of student researcher Aaliyah Strachan.
This project contributed to a new partnership SSRCH-funded grant led by Dr. Michael Windover. “Designing Domestic Dining is a collaboration between Carleton and Algonquin professors and students and curators at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
History, Memory, Performance
History, Memory, Performance (2015)
History, Memory, Performance is an interdisciplinary collection of essays exploring performances of the past in a wide range of trans-national and historical contexts ranging from seventeenth century New France and nineteenth-century Russia to modern Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Lebanon, Russia, and the United States. Contributions from theatre scholars and public historians address issues of shared interest to the disciplines of theatre studies and theatre history, performance studies, history, and public history, coalescing around the concept of memory, both collective and individual. Wide-ranging and theoretically engaged, History, Memory, Performance is especially timely given the historical turn in theatre studies and the performative turn in historical studies. I have co-edited this book with University of Ottawa theatre professors Yana Meerzon and Kathryn Prince.
Performing History on Stage with Canada’s National Art Centre’s English Theatre
In 2006 my life changed when I joined The Ark, the first of an annual interdisciplinary collaboration focusing on specific theatres, beginning with that of Elizabethan and Jacobean England, initiated by National Art Centre’s English Theatre artistic director Peter Hinton. The energies in the room inspired a rethinking of my work as a public historian, and as an early modernist, and led to my becoming Company Historian to the English Theatre Company between 2008 and 2012, from productions of Macbeth (2009) to King Lear (2012).
Romeo and Juliet
What do we mean by a “period production”? Usually it means setting a play in the period in which it was written and first performed, in this case Elizabethan England of the 1590s. Shakespeare, however, set the play in Italy of the late middle ages/early Renaissance. Immediately, then, we find ourselves negotiated between two periods and two locations if we are seeking to be “true to the period”. The 2010 production at the National Arts Centre was a period play in several senses: costumes were inspired by Italian artist (and Shakespeare’s contemporary) Caravaggio, it was performed on an Elizabethan thrust-stage with a minimalist set evocative of Elizabethan staging, and the sword-fights referenced the manuals of the 16th century. My task as Company Historian was to share my understanding of the period with the acting company and the creative team.
2012 was a landmark year for the history of theatre in Canada. For the very first time an all-Aboriginal acting company performed an un-adapted King Lear on the main stage of the National Arts Centre. A long-held dream of one of Canada’s greatest actors, August Schellenberg, this production moved Shakespeare’s setting of the play in ancient Britain to his near-contemporary encounters of European-settler culture and indigenous cultures in 17th century North America. As Company Historian I worked with the creative team in researching the period (assisted by Emily Keyes); editing Shakespeare’s text with director Peter Hinton, dramaturge Paula Danckert, and assistant director Lorne Cardinal; and liaising with one of the most remarkable aspects of this unique production, the Four Nations Exchange led by artist and educator Suzanne Keeptwo.
Vern Theisen’s Vimy is one of the most performed plays in the history of Canadian theatre. This was the first joint production between the National Art Centre’s English Theatre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company and was directed by Linda Moore. Opening on Remembrance Day, the play spoke to our own present (the war in Afghanistan) as well as the Great War (the First World War) and to our identity as Canadians. Ashlee Beattie, a research assistant on the project who had deep performance experience playing the role of nurse during the War, worked with the Company on a daily basis, while I focused on analysing the play, the production, and conducting a survey of the audience on how they experienced history on stage. One of my graduate students, Chris Schultz, wrote the study guide for the play. One of the most intriguing events surrounding the production was a roundtable with the playwright Vern Theissen, NAC English Theatre artistic director Peter Hinton, Canadian War Museum historian Tim Cook, and myself on The Theatre of War.
A Christmas Carol
As Company Historian I shared historical evidence and understanding about the world of Dickens, the poor, workhouses and so on with the Company for this 2009 production. You can listen to my conversation with artistic director Peter Hinton:
Hinterview with David Dean, 22 February 2009
Mother Courage and Her Children
Lecturing on the Thirty Years War as well as the period of Nazism during which Brecht wrote the play, this was an intriguing experience because of the realizing of early modern horrors with those of the 20th century and when Canada was at war in Afghanistan.
NAC Study Guide
One of my first encounters with a full production at the English Theatre, this production was set the middle of the 20th century. The witches were child evacuees. It challenged my historian’s understanding of the importance of accuracy.
An Actor among the Historians Page 1 | An Actor among the Historians Page 2
Rummaging in the warrens of the NAC I came across a number of maquettes or models of the sets for many productions. I chose the set for their 1975 staging of John Coulter’s Riel, one of the landmark productions in the history of Canadian theatre for a 3D rendering. A few years later I had the pleasure of supervising Emily Keyes in her honour’s student project re-imagining the play in light of recent historical scholarship.
Films, Reenactments, Musicals and other Performances
Much of my ongoing work on how the past is re-embodied through performance:
Chapters and Articles:
- “Living History”, Routledge Handbook of Reenactment Studies (2019) ed. V. Agnew, J. Lamb, and J. Tomann.
- ‘Follow the North Star: A Participatory Museum Experience,’ with Thomas Cauvin, Joan Cummins, and Andreas Etges, Journal of American History, 105.3 (2018), 630–636
- “History and performance: Hamilton: An American Musical” History at Work March 2016
- “Staging the Settlement: Shekar Kapur and the Parliament of 1559”, Parliamentary History 34.1 (Feb 2015), 30-44.
- ‘Performing Histories in Opera: Canada’s Riel’, National Council for Public History, Las Vegas, April 2018.
- “Remaking Public Histories Through Performance”, National Council for Public History, Indianapolis, April 22, 2017
- “Performing Difficult Histories: The Challenges of Representing Contested Pasts”, 3rd International Conference, International Federation for Public History, Bogota, Colombia, July 2016
- Metropolitan Nomads: A Journey Through Joburg’s Little Mogadishu, Department of History, Carleton University (installed May 2017 ran to February 2018). Take a look
- Jose Venturelli Eade: Murals and the Chilean Diaspora, December 2017, Department of History, Carleton University
- Performing History, Performing Heritage: Photos of the E.B. Eddy Complex, Department of History, Carleton University (reinstalled February 2018). Take a look.
Performing History 2015 Lectures and Interviews
Carleton’s History Department is very fortunate to have the Shannon Donation which funds a series of lectures each year. I curated the series for 2015 which focused on Performing History. The series explored the ways in which our understanding of the past is enhanced through performance asking questions such as What does it mean when our histories take alternative forms such as film, theatre, re-enactment, cabaret, and virtual gaming? How does re-staging the past in these ways shape the history that is produced and how audiences experience the past? There were five invited lectures each of which were recorded live and these will be re-posed soon on the IFPH website.
I also interviewed each lecturer on the topic, while one of my students working in the field of performance, Emily Keyes, interviewed me by way of introduction:
- Emily Keyes interviews David Dean curator of the series Performing History
- David Dean interviews Bruno Ramirez before his lecture on “Through Images, Words, and Sounds: Filmic Narration and Public History”
- David Dean interviews Vanessa Agnew before her lecture on ”Reenacting Genocide”
- David Dean interviews Lisa Peschel before her lecture on “Theatre and the Holocaust: Recently Rediscovered Scripts from the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto”
- David Dean interviews Maxime Durand before his lecture on “From Dreams to Realities: Performing History in the Assassin’s Creed® Video Game Series”
- David Dean interviews Peter Hinton before his lecture on “Why Shaw Now? A Modern Pygmalion”